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Croatian Suspect Extradited

March 21, 2000

ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) _ After delaying more than two years, Croatia handed over a prominent Bosnian Croat war crimes suspect to the U.N. tribunal Tuesday to face charges for atrocities allegedly committed against Muslims during the Bosnian war.

Mladen Naletilic was indicted on 17 counts of war crimes for his alleged role as commander of a gang of convicts who terrorized Muslims in southwestern Bosnia in 1993 and 1994 in a campaign to drive non-Croats from the area.

Although Naletilic was indicted in December 1998, the government of the late President Franjo Tudjman stalled on handing him over, first citing jurisdictional issues and later the defendant’s health.

It was widely assumed, however, that the former government feared that Naletilic, known by his nickname Tuta, could implicate senior figures in the Croatian government in the atrocities.

Last year, the tribunal complained of Croatian intransigence to the U.N. Security Council, which raised the threat of sanctions against Croatia. Under intense pressure, Croatia agreed last year to hand over Naletilic.

His extradition, however, was suspended because Naletilic was said to be suffering from severe heart trouble.

However, the death of Tudjman in December and parliamentary elections the following month brought to power a new center-left government which promised full cooperation with the tribunal and other Western institutions.

Naletilic’s extradition was seen as a test case of the new government’s commitment.

Naletilic was flown to The Hague aboard a special plane with a full medical staff, including his personal psychiatrist, Croatian officials said. He arrived in the Netherlands on Tuesday afternoon and was taken to a prison hospital for an examination, tribunal spokesman Jim Landale said.

``He was monitored throughout the flight,″ Landale said. ``His medical conditions were monitored and there were no problems. He walked off the plane.″

Last month, a Croatian doctor said Naletilic’s health remained grave after two heart operations and claimed that his patient’s life could be endangered by moving him to The Hague.

However, tribunal doctors who visited Naletilic ruled this month that he was fit to stand trial. Croatia accepted their opinion.

Croatia’s justice minister, Stjepan Ivanisevic, told reporters Tuesday he had received assurances that Naletilic would be cared for during the flight. The minister said he met Naletilic early Tuesday to tell him he was being extradited.

``I was encouraged to see him in such a good mood,″ Ivanisevic said.

Ivanisevic said the U.N. tribunal first appeared willing to allow Naletilic to be arraigned in Croatia. However, the court refused following protests over the 45-year prison sentence handed down by the court March 3 against Croat Gen. Tihomir Blaskic for war crimes committed in Bosnia.

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On the Net:

The U.N. site for the tribunal for the former Yugoslavia: htt://www.un.org/icty/

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